Christie: 'My patience has run out' with N.J.'s urban 'failure factories'

By Claude Brodesser-Akner | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 15, 2016

BAYVILLE — Just hours after he announced that he'd was petitioning the state Supreme Court to scrap key provisions of the monumental school funding case Abbott v. Burke, Gov. Chris Christie drew sharp criticism from a retired special education teacher at a town hall meeting to promote his move.

The governor had opened the town hall in Bayville with a warning.

"Today, my patience has run out," Christie admonished the crowd, adding that he was not longer content to be "a bystander in this."

Just hours earlier, the governor had directed the state attorney general to seek permission for his newly-installed education commissioner to bypass state laws and collective bargaining agreements that protect veteran teachers in those districts that fell under the landmark 1985 Abbott ruling.

The Abbott decision found New Jersey's school funding law unconstitutional as applied to children in 28 "poorer urban" school districts, and was later expanded to 31.

However, after decades of receiving extra state funding, most of the the Abbott districts still lag the state average graduation rate.

On Thursday afternoon, Nancy Salem, a retired special education teacher who attended Christie's 3 p.m. town hall at the Bayville Elks Lodge on Thursday, stood up and demanded to know how those Abbott districts would get their funds if the governor had his way.

"The Abbotts [districts] have an [average of] 80 percent graduation rate," noted Salem, citing the state's own education website's data. "While the state has an average of 90 percent...when you take that $10,000 per pupil away from those Abbott schools, where is this money going to come from? Are you expecting those Abbott schools to get that money from their municipalities?"

The governor swatted down Salem's argument, but didn't offer an answer as to how Abbott districts would be able to stop-gap the shortfall.

"As a teacher, you know that averages can be deceiving," answered Christie.

He noted that Union City, for example, graduated 90 percent of its students, but added that was cold comfort to parents in failing districts like Camden, Newark and Trenton, which all graduate fewer than two-thirds of their students.

"It doesn't mean a damn thing to the parents in Newark, Trenton or Camden Patterson, that the kids in Union City kids are doing better," said Christie, noting that New Jersey has the largest 'achievement gap' of any state in the nation.

"The kids who are not doing well are doing dreadfully. And our solution has been to throw more money at the problem, and it hasn't worked."

The governor said the answer was to instead acknowledge the fact that urban students often lacked the support structures, stable home lives and advantages of suburban districts like Berkeley Township, where he was speaking.

"I'm not worried about the kids in Berkeley doing well; they are doing well," said Christie.

"We're not doing it for the kids in the cities...We're teaching them the same way we teach the kids in Berkeley."

The governor then explained that he'd be willing to keep school funding in place in exchange for longer school days and a longer school year, but union intransigence has stood in the way.

"I would pay what I am paying now, in Newark, if I could have a longer school day and a longer school year," Christie said. "But I can't. I have to pay what I'm paying and get what I'm getting...I'm paying for failure now. They're failure factories. And the people who are responsible for this need to be held accountable."

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